I've found so much great food in nearly four years of exploring North Texas dining — and more than a little overhyped nonsense, like every single Joe Palladino concept I had the misfortune of visiting — but it was hard not to fall in love with Dallas through its foodways. I was able to explore the future of sustainable cattle ranching, write about cross-border food diplomacy through brisket and mezcal, experienced the unmitigated magic of Frank Underground and even got moderately stoned at an underground cannabis dinner.
But as much great food as I found while working for the Observer, I found the best dining experiences within a mile or two of my home in Oak Cliff. I rented three different places in Dallas but never managed to leave the 75208 ZIP code — and why would I? The walkability, the history, the sense of community and badass food made Oak Cliff impossible to leave. Sitting on my Winnetka Heights porch swing in the evenings and waving at passing neighbors have made me feel like a goddamn fool for running off to Colorado. And maybe I am. Ask me again after I take advantage of the fact that psilocybin mushrooms have been decriminalized in Denver.
When I look back on the bars and restaurants that made the biggest impact on me, almost all of them are in North Oak Cliff. These are the neighborhood joints where I drowned my sorrows in whiskey at the end of a bad day and celebrated the end of the best days, usually with whiskey again. These are the places where I had first dates — and last dates. And, come to think of it, an awful lot of only-one-dates during a very unfortunate two-year stint on Tinder.
My entire life changed in the three and a half years since I took this job. Before Dallas, the largest city I'd ever lived in was Beaumont, Texas. I came here with my former partner, who now has a new partner, as do I, and we sometimes meet up for tequila and Topo at Tiny Victories to marvel at everything that's changed since we abandoned our $400 attic apartment in Old Town Beaumont to start over in Kidd Springs. I owe Dallas a lot, if not everything. And I'm sorry I'm stealing one of your handsomest and running off to the shadow of the Front Range.
Before I go, it seems only fair to pay my respects to the Dallas bars and restaurants that gave my life here such color, community and goddamn great food. There are so many great places that I hardly had room to include on this list — oh, how I'll miss you, Ten Bells and Taco y Vino and Las Almas Rotas and Tiny Victories and Lucia and Grapevine and Barbara's Pavilion and Shoals and the Grape — but this is a pretty solid snapshot of my years here.
People give Dallas a lot of flack and judgment that it doesn't deserve — unless we're talking about Dallas city government, in which case that flack and judgment are fully and completely justified — but if Dallas taught me anything, it's that you should never judge a city by its presidential assassinations and $30,000 millionaires.
Nova1417 W. Davis St. (Oak Cliff), novadallas.com
I didn't just fall in love with Nova; I fell in love at Nova. I first met my partner Ben at Off the Record in Deep Ellum, leading to a long, drunken night at Shoals that led, eventually, to me stealing Ben from Dallas altogether. But between Off the Record and Denver, there were many, many nights at Nova, when, during the cold winter months as our new relationship unfolded, Ben and I would curl up together at the bar with a glass of whiskey and Nova's chicken udon. Some of the biggest landmark moments in our relationship can be traced back to this happy little gastropub.
On our first visit together, owner J.D. Reid offered to hold our leftovers while we caught a Shinyribs show at the Kessler. When we walked back into Nova after the concert, Reid met us with two glasses of bourbon and offered us our leftovers — and a ride home, free of charge. We'd never even met the man before, and he had no idea I was a food writer for a local newspaper. That's just the kind of service you get at Nova. There's a reason you'll run into almost everyone in Oak Cliff at this sweet retro-tinged diner. The food is great, the cocktails are strong and no place will ever take better care of you.
1902 S. Lamar St. (The Cedars), sandwichhag.com
It's not just that Sandwich Hag makes great banh mis, which they do. It's that they make unequivocally one of the best sandwiches I've ever had. When she's not advocating for more employment opportunities for people with Down syndrome, chef-owner Reyna Duong is masterfully crafting every single component of her utterly perfect banh mi sandwiches. This unbelievably cheerful Cedars spot has found such a deep place in my heart that Ben and I have ordered the Vietnamese sausage banh mi (with that perfect coconut cafe sua da) on Caviar multiple times per week since we found out we were leaving. Now, if I could only find a way to unbreak Ben's heart when I broke it to him that no, Caviar will not deliver to Sandwich Hag to RiNo.
412 N. Bishop Ave. (Bishop Arts District), revelershall.com
Three weeks ago, when a massive storm blew through Dallas on an otherwise quiet Sunday afternoon, the winds blew us into Reveler's Hall, the new New Orleans-style Bishop Arts jazz bar from the folks behind AJ Vagabonds and Oddfellows. Like much of the block, the bar had lost power, but Unfaded Brass Band was still playing its heart out as candles flickered and people passed 20s over the bar in exchange for Negronis and old fashioneds. I'm not sure if it was the perfect cocktails or the multiple trombones screaming in the shadows, but this was the 12th time — out of approximately 200 — that I quietly cried about all the beautiful things I'm giving up to leave Dallas.
Reveler's Hall is exactly what Bishop Arts never knew it needed.
314 W. Eighth St. (Bishop Arts District), thewilddetectives.com
When you grow up on an almost indescribably small peninsula and spend the first decade of your career working in small towns in order to pay your dues, moving to a city like Dallas feels not unlike winning the cultural lottery. And the first time I stepped into Wild Detectives, a few days after arriving, I felt like I'd won the lottery twice.
I've bought more books and cocktails at this Oak Cliff cafe and bookstore than my budget ever allowed, and I regret none of it. From the readings to the concerts to the natural wine pop-ups and paella classes, this place became my second home. There are so many bars and restaurants in Dallas that feel placeless, untethered, as if they could exist in any city on the planet. Wild Detectives is not one of them. I hope Dallas never forgets what a treasure this place is.
416 N. Bishop Ave. (Bishop Arts District)
I hope the wealthy, out-of-touch men who own the lion's share of Bishop Arts District know that the day El Jordan gets priced out of BAD is the day the neighborhood officially loses its soul. This bustling Mexican breakfast and lunch spot is too authentic for the word authentic; it cheapens the magic. Like Nova, you're guaranteed to dine next to your neighbors here, rather than the tourists who won't fill the streets outside for another few hours. The $1.50 house-made chorizo breakfast burrito is the best breakfast I've ever had, and how often can two people have the perfect breakfast in Dallas for $3?
4234 Harry Hines Blvd. (Medical District)
The first time I stumbled upon Antoine's, I felt like I had stepped through a portal back to the swampy Texas/Louisiana border where I used to live. This history-filled sandwich spot serves quick, easy po'boys that set you back less than $6 and taste exactly like the grocery store po'boys I use to hunt for in Port Arthur. The fact that this place is so multicultural — the flags of both Greece and Lebanon hang next to the American flag, a nod to the people who run the show here — makes it, to me, oh, so Texas. Our cuisine has always been a mish-mash of cultures, so why wouldn't there be a beautifully cheap Cajun sandwich shop run by Greek and Lebanese immigrants in a Dallas medical district?
333 W. Jefferson Blvd. (Oak Cliff), smallbrewpub.com
My love for Small started when the inimitable chef Misty Norris was still churning out crispy chicken feet and fried wild mushrooms from the out-there menu that gave way to its current offerings of classic American gastropub fare. Norris is gone, but Small is better than ever. The beer lineup is still diverse and incredibly impressive for a brewpub of this size; the happy hour is a steal; and now, you can also enjoy the incredible beers of experimental Dallas brewer Barrett Tillman, aka Blackman Brewing, while you eat superb nachos and come early on weekends for brunch. Small has often served as my Dallas home base — hell, we just hosted an AMA on r/Dallas from there last night — and it's one of the places I'll miss the most.